There will be fewer stores and retailers will have to take a shopper’s context into account when serving her, often via her mobile phone.

A decade ago, going shopping meant taking a trip to the store or a flip through a catalog. While online shopping was on the rise, it was hardly the new norm for consumers, and it was definitely not an activity that involved multiple devices, including the mobile phone. Who would have predicted that by 2016, one in three digital retail transactions would take place on a mobile device and that consumers would be turning to apps to buy things like new shoes for same-day delivery? More importantly, what if you could have predicted it?

A lot has changed in the past 10 years, so retailers are wondering: what will the next ten years bring? Criteo teamed up with Ovum to take a look at what the landscape will look like in the years ahead, and to predict what’s to come across five key elements in 2026.

The consumer

By 2026, consumers will expect a seamless shopping experience across an increasing range of connected devices, in which immediacy and convenience are table stakes. Many consumers will want an environment where shopping is an event experience in its own right. This will translate into interactive, highly engaging online and real-world retail environments. In addition, a vital condition for success for retailers in 2026 will be the ability to keep track of users and measure attribution across a growing number of devices and touch points. It’s also likely that retailers will need to exploit the sharing economy to their benefit. The trend for collaborative consumption where technology is used to facilitate the borrowing, sharing, lending, renting and swapping of goods and services will become more pronounced.

The storefront

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Boundaries will blur between physical stores and online as consumer are already shopping on their mobile phones while in store. The industry will also see physical spaces shrink. Big brands won’t need the same kind of space they once had and online brands will invest in establishing physical presences to showcase branded and private ­label products. Temporary pop-up stores, with retailers and manufacturers moving around to roadshow products, will be widespread and integral to the retail experience rather than an opportunistic use of vacant space. And, we’ll see retail move from an online versus physical distinction to an experience versus fulfillment distinction. Don’t be surprised if in the years ahead one-day, or even same-day shipping is an offering—and a free one at that.

The device

The widespread adoption of increasingly powerful smartphones with larger screens will continue to improve the m-commerce experience. As such, more and more retailers are optimizing their sites for mobile shopping. These developments are turning the smartphone into a platform that can support the entire shopping journey, from product search and discovery to comparisons, recommendations, and payments. By 2026, contextual location will be an integral part of the retail experience, providing a way for retailers to deliver targeted, timely, contextually relevant messages to consumers. We also expect to see very strong growth in mobile payments, and mobile will soon become the dominant channel for loyalty programs and rewards.

The context

The ability to leverage multiple data points to provide a contextual view of consumers will drive the evolution of predictive analytics. Looking ahead to 2026, curated shopping and digital assistants will be widely used. Recently introduced by Facebook, its M chatbot serves as a digital assistant already helping consumers in their daily life by doing things like getting a car via Lyft. Consumers will also soon let a trusted digital assistant like a chatbot wade through incoming information to identify relevant deals. Consumers will expect convenience and personalization in their interactions with retailers, and brands will accept that this is enabled by sharing personal data.

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The technology

Ten years from now, consumers will be living in a hyper-connected, high-speed world where the IoT (Internet of Things) will enrich consumer engagement in retail on a daily basis and be a data resource for advertisers. Wearables, in particular, will become a source of very granular data insights and new types of behavioral and usage data. Augmented reality (AR) will overtake virtual reality and play an increasingly important role in the retail experience. Just think, you can try on a dress or suit virtually via a retailer’s app and quite possibly adjust venue settings to reflect a ball, or important meeting. This added layer of AR is also predicted to drive down returns, which according to the U.S. National Retail Federation cost U.S. retailers $284 billion.

How to stay ahead?

Here are some worthwhile goals for your ten-year game plan:

  • Stay agile by adopting new technologies and embracing partnership opportunities.
  • Rethink traditional consumer segmentation. As hybrid purchasing behaviors continue to emerge, retailers must take a creative approach to segmentation.
  • Pursue mass customization versus unfettered personalization. It provides the ability to efficiently offer individualized products and services at scale.
  • Understand the consumer journey so you know where sales are happening and where to focus your resources.
  • Create a brand experience to create an emotional bond and relationship of trust with consumers.

The world of retail is undergoing an unprecedented wave of innovation. As a retailer, staying ahead is critical to success.

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Criteo is a provider of online advertising technology.

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